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The Mermaid and the Shoe Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Created with watercolor and pencil crayon, this tale is unique in its style. One of Neptune's 50 daughters, Minnow doesn't think she is remarkable. In fact, she thinks she's truly useless, with no talent of her own. Her only companion is a little orange sea horse. Minnow is a curious mermaid, always asking questions that no one seems to understand. One day she finds a dainty little red shoe. It is only when she sets out on an adventure to learn about the purpose of shoes that she truly realizes that she is an explorer. The mermaid finds answers to her questions and rushes home to tell everyone of all that she has learned. While there is no sea witch to be found in this work that is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, Minnow's narcissistic sister Calypso is quite mean. Campbell's illustrations employ ample blues and grays to portray deep waters of the sea. The mermaids are all identical, with fair skin, white hair, and thin bodies. It is only when Minnow catches a glimpse of the human world that the pages become vibrant with hues of red, yellow, and orange. This book is suitable for independent reading as well as a read-aloud. Minnow's tale will remind readers that it is okay to ask questions and seek answers, to stand out and be unique.—H. Islam, Brooklyn Public Library
... the artwork is also full of subtle humor---Campbell definitively answers the question of what a shrugging octopus looks like---and the story solidly delivers its message about the value of inquisitiveness, adventurousness, and storytelling.―Publishers Weekly
With a clever storyline and enchanting pictures, this is an elegant choice for 4- to 9-year-olds who want a break from dinosaurs.―The Wall Street Journal
This fairy tale-like story is delightfully told with gentle humour, featuring an unlikely heroine, whose journey to discover a special role in her life will make a great read-aloud ... I could see The Mermaid and the Shoe being successfully used as a vehicle in the classroom or home setting to reaffirm the power of perseverance, the importance of inquisitiveness and to remind children that there is value is believing in yourself.―CM Magazine
This book is suitable for independent reading as well as a read-aloud. Minnow's tale will remind readers that it is okay to ask questions and seek answers, to stand out and be unique.―School Library Journal
The writing and illustrations somehow manage to convey both an old-fashioned fairy-tale quality and a contemporary edge. Our favorite book of the year (and maybe for years to come).―The Globe and Mail
The watercolor and pencil-crayon illustrations ... have a similar sense of motion and playfulness. And the visual differences between the flow-y haired, teeny-weeny-seashell-bikini-clad mermaids and the Raggedy Ann-esque landmaid point to the subjectivity of storytelling (and also of beauty).―The Horn Book Magazine
Delicately illustrated by the author in watercolours and pencil crayon.―The Montreal Gazette
Campbell's illustrations, of shadowy blue undersea scenes lightened by pale drifting hair and waving strands of kelp, have an attractive, old-fashioned style that harks back to classic picture books of the early 20th century ... Campbell's sense of visual humor and Minnow's prince-free happy ending suit 2014 beautifully.―The New York Times
Although this luminous tale of self-discovery has echoes of ?The Little Mermaid,? like Minnow, it sings its own strong song.―Kirkus Reviews - Starred Review
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Mermaids are talented creatures. Just ask King Neptune. The merman has fifty (count ‘em) fifty daughters and every single one of them has a talent. Every single one . . . except perhaps Minnow. The youngest daughter, Minnow can’t garden or train fish or sing particularly well. Instead, she asks questions. Questions that nobody seems to know the answers to. One day, a strange red object falls from above. No one, not even Minnow’s stuck up sister Calypso, can say what it is or what it does. Inspired, Minnow goes up to the surface to discover its use. What she finds shocks her, but also gives her a true purpose. She’s not just the youngest daughter in her family any more. No, Minnow is an explorer through and through.
My three-year-old daughter has a laser-like ability to hone in on any new picture book that appears in my bag when I come home from work. I hadn’t necessarily meant to try out “The Mermaid and the Shoe” on her, but once she zeroed in on it there was no stopping her. At this point in time she doesn’t have much of a magical creature frame of reference so it was interesting trying to explain the rudimentary basics of your everyday merman or mermaid in the context of Campbell’s book. She had a bit of a hard time understanding why Minnow didn’t know what a shoe was. I explained that mermaids don’t have feet. “Why don’t they have feet?” Not much of an answer to be given to that one. Happily she enjoyed the book thoroughly, but with its emphasis on cruel older siblings and the importance of making your own path, this is going to be best enjoyed by a slightly older readership.
As I may have mentioned before, Disney ruined us for mermaids. There will therefore be kids who read this book and then complain that it’s not a cookie cutter Ariel mass media affair. Still, I like to think those kids will be few and far between. First off, the book does have some similarities to the Ariel storyline. King Neptune/Triton is still the buff and shirtless father of a bunch of mermaid sisters and he still has his customary crown, flowy white beard (beards just look so keen underwater, don’t you think?), and triton. The story focuses yet again on his youngest daughter who longs to know more about the world up above. She’s accompanied by an adorable underwater sea creature. But once you get past the peripheral similarities, Campbell strikes out into uncharted territory, so to speak.
With this book Campbell strikes a storytelling tone. It’s a bit more classic than that found in some other contemporary picture books, but it fits the subject and the art. When you read that Calypso called her little sister "useless" the text says, “for sisters can be mean that way.” There’s an art to the storytelling. I loved that Minnow considers the shoe important because “This thing . . . was made with care. It has a purpose, and I will discover it!” As for the plot itself, I’ve never seen a book do this particular storyline before. Maybe it’s because authors are afraid of incurring the litigious wrath of Disney, but shouldn’t more mermaids be curious about our world? The fact that they’d be horrified by our feet just makes complete and utter sense. If you didn’t know they weren't hands then of course you’d consider them knobby, gnarled and smelly (though how they know about that last bit is up for contention). Campbell knows how to follow a plotline to its logical conclusion.
I also love the core message of the book. Minnow’s talent lies in not just her brain (which I would have settled for) but also in how she sets about getting answers to her questions. At the end of the tale her father proclaims that her talent is being an explorer but I’m not so sure. I think Minnow’s a reporter. She not only asks the right questions but she sets out to find answers, no matter where they lead her. Then she comes back and shares information with her fellow mermaids, reporting her findings and sticking to the facts. You could also call her a storyteller, but to my mind Minnow is out there chasing down leads, satisfying her own curiosity over and over again. You might even say she comes close to the scientific method (though she never sets up a hypothesis so that would be a bit of a stretch).
There’s been a lot of talk over the years as to whether or not the greatest picture books out there are always written and illustrated by the same person (just look at the most recent Caldecott winners if you doubt me). You could argue both ways, but there is little doubt in my mind that Campbell just happened to be the best possible artist for this book . . . which he also just happened to write. I hate the term “dreamlike” but doggone it, it’s sort of the best possible term for this title. Notice how beautifully Campbell frames his images. In some pages he will surround a round image like a window with aspects of the scene (seaweed, fronds, or in the case of the world above, wildflowers). Consider too his use of color. The single red shoe is the only object of that particular bright hue in the otherwise grey and gloomy underwater lands. The mermaids themselves are all white-haired, a fact that makes a lot of sense when you consider that sunlight never touches them. They’re like lovely little half-human cavefish. And then there’s the man’s scope. I was reminded of a similarly aquatic picture book, David Soman’s “Three Bears in a Boat” in terms of the use of impressive two-page spreads. There’s an image of Minnow confronting a whale that could well take your breath away if you let it. The man knows how to pull back sometimes and then go in for the close-up. I have heard some objections to the mermaids’ teeny tiny seashells that seemingly float over their nonexistent breasts. And true, you notice it for about half a second. Then you get into the book itself and all is well.
With its can do mermaid who seeks answers in spite of her age and size, its beautiful watercolor and pencil crayon imagery, and writing that makes the reader feel like they’re indulging in a contemporary classic, there is no question in my mind that “The Mermaid and the Shoe” is the best little mermaid related picture book of all time. Utterly charming and unique, I can only hope it inspires other artists and authors to attempt to write more quality works of picture book fiction about magical creatures for the kiddos. It’s not an easy task, but when it works boy HOWDY does it work! Beguiling and bewitching, there’s only one true word to describe this book. Beautiful.
For ages 3-7.